Forty shades of brown?

Climate change is set to change the very face of Ireland in the coming decades. This is the conclusion of a study published to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day. The study is called ‘Changing Shades Of Green – The environmental and cultural impacts of climate change in Ireland.’

This report has been produced by the Irish American Climate Project, a group working in tandem with the ICARUS science team headed by Prof John Sweeney in Maynooth, and it makes for extremely interesting reading.

In the words of the authors, “the science sections may help the reader know the issues; the cultural sections may help the reader feel them”. It’s a brave collaboration of poets and professors.

‘The nickname Emerald Isle is a legacy of Ireland’s steady rainfall. The island’s rainfall regime can be expected to change with global warming’. Winter rainfall is expected to increase by around 12%, and summer precipitation to fall by a similar amount.

One of the first expected victims of the new climatic regime is the Irish staple, the potato. It would be unlikely to survive prolonged summer droughts. Inland fisheries will also continue to feel the heat as summer water levels plummet.

The colour of the landscape is expected to shift to a more European brown, partially due to the drier grasses in the summer and autumn, and partly as a result of the need to switch to the production of grain crops to produce feed for livestock. Today, many Irish cattle are fed on silage cut from lush green pastures.

While many people in Ireland persist in seeing climate shift as a distant problem, the facts tell a different story. Ireland is in fact warming faster than the global average. Since 1980, temperatures here have been rising at the rate of 0.44º C per decade. That is a profound and sudden shift in historical terms.

An enduring memory I have of tromping into UCC in the early 1980s was of the hard frosts that seemed to be pretty much the winter norm at that time. While I wasn’t around back then to verify this, there are accurate meteorological records going back to the 1950s to confirm that since that time, the number of days with frost at Shannon Airport has declined by 32 days a year.

The report also tells us that of the more than 20 currently used global climate models used in the IPCC’s 2007 report, three were selected for developing Irish climate scenarios. Some likely scenarios are shown in the chart below (GCM = global climate model).

Ireland Climate chart

The overall thrust of these estimates sees Ireland warming by 2º C or more in the 21st century. It may not sound like a lot, but as this report illustrates clearly, huge regional variations in rainfall, and in the intensity and timing of rainfall is likely to heighten climate impacts in Ireland in the decades ahead.

This has big consequences for agriculture as well as fresh water sources and availability, and that affects everyone, especially along the much dryer east coast. All these scenarios exclude the possibility of ‘abrupt changes’ occurring that could, as some climatic tipping point is crossed, lead to sudden shifts of up to 5º–10º C in a single decade.

Ireland climate chart2

The study authors point out that climate forcings in the past have triggered sudden, severe climate shifts of that magnitude and velocity. There is ample evidence in the ice core records of shifts of this suddenness and severity. Luckily, the last times they happened, there weren’t billions of humans around to bear the brunt of such drastically altered climate.

Poet Theo Dorgan is quoted as saying that is entirely appropriate to use both scientific and poetic voices to attempt to describe the impacts of climate change.

“To me, the inspired scientist and the inspired poet are both doing valuable work. The modalities of operation are different, but the operations and consciousness are very analogous. It’s to do with claritas, like the old Roman virtues of claritas and luciditas. Look at the things we value: We value clarity, lucidity. Both of these are about illumination.”

Returning to scientific illumination, the study notes that Ireland climate this century will change much faster than evolution can proceed; the warming is occurring at perhaps 10 times the speed of the warming at the end of the last great glacial period.

Many species simply cannot adjust or escape quickly enough to survive changes of this magnitude happening in this time scale. “Much of what makes Ireland unique will survive for future generations—but some of it will not. The extent of change will be determined largely by decisions made today and in coming decades”, it concludes.

It’s a document that deserves a wide audience.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
This entry was posted in Energy, Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Irish Focus, Sustainability. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Forty shades of brown?

  1. Jim Beam says:

    have read lots about climate change, warming, ect but’s this is one of the few times Ive seen something that says what it means in ireland – thanks a lot and keep up the blog, its great

  2. Liam O'B says:

    Hey, read your piece in the Irish Times yesterday, thats how I found the blog, good stuff. How come i hadnt heard of it before??

  3. Sheila Donnelly says:

    I live in the west of ireland and theres been a lot of talk about fighting to hang onto OUR water so the jackeens dont get it all. There isnt much coverage of this as something thats actually ALL our prolbem

  4. Tim Pearson says:

    A feature of most reportage on climate change is doom and gloom so it is refreshing to read about a study which apparently adds some balance to the debate. Of course we must plan for future change – this is the pity and the delight of the human condition – but we should focus more on the benefits of climate change rather than the loss of green fields. Provoked by studies such as this human ingenuity will assuredly rise to the occasion and ensure that Ireland in 2080 is in fact a better place to live than it is now. My only regret is that I will not be around to enjoy a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from the south facing slopes of the Wicklow hills.

  5. When I saw this, I quote “Luckily, the last times they happened, there weren’t billions of humans around to bear the brunt of such drastically altered climate” I began to wonder. Is this realy our fault as we are told or is it a natural phenomena ? Can we do anything about it realy. Or are we at the mercy of a god with a warped sense of humour.

  6. Ray Mulvaney says:

    According to temperature graphs by UK’s Hadley Climate Research Unit Temperature anomaly (HadCRUT) the earth’s temperature has been dropping since 1998, a fact apparently overlooked by the global warming scaremonger. There were several periods in history, notably the Medieval Warm Period and the Holocene Maximum, which were much warmer than today. In the 17th century, Europe experienced the Little Ice Age, where temperatures were so consistently chilly that ice skaters revelled on the completely frozen London Thames. Antarctic ice core samples show that the rise in carbon dioxide levels lags behind temperature rise by 800 years, therefore cannot be the cause of it. The human contribution to carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is minimal in comparison to other natural means, including volcanic emissions and CO2 produced by animals, bacteria, decaying vegetation and the ocean. The human “carbon footprint” is vastly outweighed by all of these factors. In the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher’s right wing government and the environmental left joined forces to promote the idea of man-made global warming. Thatcher’s agenda was to force the country to adopt nuclear power because she trusted neither the oil-rich Middle Eastern powers nor her own country’s rebellious coal mining unions; therefore a propaganda war against fossil fuels was initiated. The whole purpose of this hysteria being continually regurgitated today is to thwart the development of third world countries to ensure global political power remains in the northern hemisphere.

  7. John Gibbons says:

    Ray, your contribution eloquently sets out the standard ‘sceptic’ pitch, something along the lines of: (a) Somehow, the planet is really getting cooler; (b) It was like this in the recent past; (c) CO2 levels lag behind temperature rises; (d) human impacts, compared with natural forcings, are insignificant; (d) even if it’s all happening, it must be a conspiracy (in your case, a cunning plan by the West to keep poor countries poor).

    Ray, I’d honestly love to believe you, I really would. Nothing would give me more pleasure than being dead wrong and hanging up my hat on this topic. Unfortunately, wishful thinking and data cherry-picking is no substitute for hard facts, and the facts here are rock solid. Unless the laws of physics are about to be overturned, then we’re in for some tough times ahead, and yes, we humans are the key forcing in the drastic changes now being wrought across the face of the planet.

    Get used to it, that’s the way it is. We may not have consciously set out to wreck the planet, but that’s what’s happening. Ray, with respect, you need to review the source material you’re relying on to reach your conclusions. Let me strongly recommend ‘Something New Under the Sun’ by Prof JR McNeill as an excellent primer on the human footprint, what it means and how it’s measured.

    It’s written in unemotional language (even the ‘Economist’ gave it a rave review) and sets out in clear, tabular terms, an inventory of us and our host planet that is simply overwhelming.

    As long as you approach it (and this subject in general) with an open mind, prepare to have it changed.

  8. paul nealon says:

    I agree we do have climate change, things are different since I was a child. I think Mr. Gibbons is not altogether wrong. Our politicians due use statistics to introduce control over the population. This only hightens the fact we are being lied to. Carbon emmissions are the typical example now we are taxed according to the vehical we drive in Ireland. Carbon emmissions in Ireland are the result of government idiots and their enforcers. We are all to well aware of the car park called the ( M50 ) but every town in Ireland has one.
    Question: Why is just about every landfill in this country situated above a main water course, no wonder our water is undrinkable.

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